Pre-Bond Architectural Planning for K-12 Schools By Terry Wood, AIA, LEED AP

In challenging economic times, it is especially difficult to pass a bond referendum for school districts.  School districts across the Midwest had several local ballot measures fail last fall.  The failed measures are not due to the lack of school district needs.  Often times, it is the consequence of an ill-informed community.  When defining the district’s needs, it is crucial that the school board and community advocates are involved in the early stages of development and kept informed throughout the entire pre-bond process.  It is essential for the group to have input in making decisions; performing thorough reviews and studying all available planning options.  A school design consultant that is experienced in educational facility planning, should be retained to lead this group through the planning process.  The consultant’s prime focus is to determine needs by assessing how new or renovated facilities support the district’s educational programs. This consultant should be equipped with architectural/engineering disciplines, cost estimating services and a comprehensive process for communicating the district’s vision through design.  The district’s financial adviser should also be available at planning sessions to provide support and advice on the bond market and tax impacts.

As the planning process evolves, school districts must provide information about the bond referendum in a natural manner.  Their role is to encourage people to vote and to distribute factual information to the public.  That is why it is essential for community members to take the lead in promoting the referendum.  A well-organized grassroots effort, lead by energetic citizens, is the ideal way to sell a bond referendum to the general public.  The grassroots promotional campaign operates independently of the district and seeks out support for the referendum.  These individuals have a great deal of latitude in their promotional work through public meetings, block parties, door-to-door distribution of promotional materials, phone call campaigns and personal contact with potential voters.  Concentration on the “yes” and “undecided” voters during the campaign is important. Never assume you have all the votes needed for the bond to pass.  How many times do we hear that a ballot measure failed by 3, 6 or 9 votes?  That is why every vote in support of a ballot measure is important and necessary to pass the referendum.

The needs for facilities that improve educational achievement are not going away.  When it comes to educating our youth, it is not a viable option to wait and hope the economy recovers before seeking a better learning environment.  An education district, teamed with a proven design consultant, informed school board and well-organized grassroots citizen group can overcome this uncertain economy.